Nuggets: Nauseating to Noteworthy

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Nuggets: Nauseating to Noteworthy

Jamal Murray in the zone, as Will Barton looks on.

Jamal Murray in the zone, as Will Barton looks on.

Courtesy of Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Jamal Murray in the zone, as Will Barton looks on.

Courtesy of Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Courtesy of Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Jamal Murray in the zone, as Will Barton looks on.

Matt Dragani, Co Editor-in-Chief

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Fans of the Denver Nuggets have walked a long and grueling road for years, standing behind a team that was shaky at best and downright awful at its worst.

But the sun is rising on a new season, and over a new era of Nuggets basketball. Finally coming out of the purgatory that had kept them from being a viable contender in the vicious western conference, the Nuggets have managed a great season thus far. With younger players like Gary Harris and Jamal Murray starting to come into their own alongside team leaders like Will Barton and veterans like Paul Millsap, the Nuggets have been able to build a well-rounded team with a strong starting line as well as a consistent and productive bench ready to step in.

Yet while the Nuggets have been off to a lucky start, including pulling off a seven game win streak that placed them at the first in the west, lately that luck has started to turn. Injuries among starting players Harris, Millsap, Murray and Barton have greatly weakened the team. Harris, who averages 16.6 points per game, 3.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists as shooting guard, is expected to be out for the next three to four weeks due to a hip injury earned against the Toronto Raptors on Monday, Dec. 3. Harris is a strong and dependable scorer, and his absence from the court means the team will need to reevaluate their offensive strategy to compensate.

The offensive ability of the team isn’t the only aspect to be negatively affected. Starting center Paul Millsap suffered a broken big toe on his right foot against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday, Dec. 7. Millsap averages 1.4 steals and 1 block a game, as well as pulling in seven rebounds per game. He is a beast of a defender, protecting the rim while also being able to guard multiple positions, as well as remaining a proficient scorer both inside and outside the paint. On a team with a history full of good lock down defenders, Millsap has managed to compete with the best of them.

Millsap, age 33, is certainly starting to slow down however. As he gets older, injuries like these will likely become more frequent and take longer to heal, meaning the Nuggets may have to start looking for younger prospects to continue to flesh out their roster come the draft next year.

In the meantime, head coach of the Nuggets, Mike Malone, described his plans while awaiting Harris and Millsap’s return, “On that given night, which player we feel is going to be a better matchup for us in terms of who they’re guarding, who the other team offers in their starting lineup and also, it’s not just about how it affects the starting unit — how does it affect the bench unit?”

The team has also signed former Los Angeles Lakers guard Nick Young halfway through the season as part of an “injury hardship relief exception,” allowing the team to continue playing while waiting on Harris and Millsap’s return. Young, put up 5 points against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the entirety of the NBA finals, but averaged 13.2 points per game with the Lakers in hopes of reinstating the Nuggets as first in the western conference.

 

*Since the writing of this story, two more Nuggets starters, Will “The Thrill” Barton, and Jamal “Maple Curry” Murray remained recovering from injuries. Barton is recovering from hip surgery in October and is set for reevaluation to continue playing, while Murray is nursing painful bruises on his shins and forearms, slowing him down somewhat but not stopping him, as he will remain in play while waiting on the rest of the team to heal. Both these players hold a huge role within the team’s dynamic, Barton as a utility man capable of easy adaptation on offense and defense Murray especially as a long range shooter.